In March 1967, Norman P. Neureiter arrived in Poland with his wife Georgine and their two young boys to serve as the first science attaché at the U.S. Embassy in Warsaw. During the next two years, Neureiter would develop many cooperative research projects bringing U.S. and Polish scientists together during some of the darkest days of the Cold War.
In recognition of this work and his subsequent support of Polish-American research, Neureiter, now a senior advisor to the AAAS Center for Science Diplomacy and director of the Center for Science, Technology and Security Policy, was on 6 June awarded the Officers Cross of the Order of Polonia Restituta (Polish Merit, one of the highest Polish State decorations) by the president of the Republic of Poland, Bronisław Komorowski.
By 1968, the student unrest in western countries had spread in dramatic form to Poland and other parts of Eastern Europe. At the theater, Neureiter heard the audience cheer in response to anti-Russian sentiments in a play by beloved Polish poet Adam Mickiewicz. And, in Krakow's Market Square, he watched as militias with red armbands drove demonstrators away, leaving only yellow flowers as a symbol of protest. In check, where Neureiter was also assigned, he saw the start of the "Prague Spring" and its end with the Soviet Invasion.
In the sciences, however, the prospects for progress were more auspicious. Neureiter broadened cooperation already beginning in agriculture, medicine and health care, and developed new areas such as environmental protection and clean coal. After returning to the United States, he served as a U.S. Commissioner of the Maria Sklodowska-Curie Joint Fund II, which supported Polish-American research collaboration.
Committed to cooperation. Norman Neureiter receives one of the highest Polish State decorations from the president of the Republic of Poland, Bronisław Komorowski. [Courtesy Office of The President of the Republic of Poland]
More recently, Neureiter helped to initiate a new awards program, announced last month, to be jointly administered by AAAS and the Foundation for Polish Science, recognizing scientists who have advanced science through U.S.-Polish cooperation.
Neureiter received the Officers Cross of the Order of Polish Merit during a ceremony at the historic Belvedere Presidential Palace in Warsaw. In his remarks, Neureiter stressed the value of science diplomacy in building and strengthening ties between nations, even in the face of severe strains in official relationships.
"I think your security people thought I was a spy determined to discover your scientific secrets," he said. "But, in truth, my mission was just the opposite. It was to build friendly, cooperative relationships with the Polish science community, and to foster cooperative projects wherever funding possibilities and joint scientific interests existed."
"In those days, we did not have a special name for these activities; we just called them science cooperation. But, in fact, those projects were examples of what today we call science diplomacy: the use of science cooperation as a way of improving relations between countries."
A research chemist in his early career, Neureiter entered the U.S. Foreign Service in the 1960s. Later, he served in President Richard Nixon's Office of Science and Technology, where he helped to develop the scientific elements of historic agreements with the Soviet Union and China. He then spent more than 20 years with Texas Instruments, and in 2000, he was named science advisor to U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. He remained in that post under Albright's successor, Colin Powell, and he joined AAAS in 2004.
Since that time, Neureiter has been a part of AAAS science-diplomacy delegations to Iran, Cuba, Syria, Myanmar, North Korea, and other countries. In 2008, Neureiter received the National Academy of Sciences Public Welfare Medal in recognition of his efforts as a science advisor and champion for international research cooperation. He also received Japan's Order of the Rising Sun, Gold and Silver Star decoration in 2010, for his efforts to advance U.S.-Japan relations and joint scientific efforts. Last year, Neureiter was awarded the Austrian Cross of Honour for Science and Art 1st Class for his efforts to support the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, a Vienna-based organization that addresses global challenges.